Native advertising has been one of the hottest advertising topics of 2013. According to a recent survey, the majority of publishers now offer or plan to offer native advertising programs.
Two months ago, I examined the performance of more than 300 BrandVoice articles on Forbes, one of the most established native publishing platforms for B2B marketers.
One of the key reasons, however, is the surprising part. Google.
The result: marketers are forking over big budgets to be able to publish on media properties like Forbes, but they are getting just a tiny fraction of the traffic to their content that staff journalists are getting.
How Google Is Penalizing Native Publishing Programs
Google requires publishers to disclose paid content in sitemaps and treats paid content, including the Forbes BrandVoice articles I looked at, differently than editorial content.
The difference on a site like Forbes can be thousands of pageviews on each article.
Less Google traffic means …
… less social sharing, which means …
… less social traffic, which means …
… fewer inclusions in top article rolls, which means …
… publishing on Forbes, or any other major media site, isn’t worth nearly as much as it would initially seem to be.
But Is Native Advertising Just Trickery?
According to Jaime Cole, one of the participants in the recent FTC discussion of native advertising and disclosures, native advertising works best today when disclosure is limited. In short, when publishers and advertisers work together to trick readers.
Judging by their policy, Google seems to concur. In the spirit of Do No Evil, Google intends to protect us as consumers from this marketing trickery.
What Marketers Can Do
As readers, like Google, increasingly recognize that native advertising is not subject to the same editorial standards, the false credibility the publisher masthead brings will fade.
Marketers who use a publisher’s name to lend credibility to thinly veiled self-serving marketing messages will fail. Distribution, even under a major media masthead, will need to be earned and readers will recognize they aren’t seeing a traditional editorial article.
Even on Forbes, with its high price point and the content coaching and controls they provide, this self-centered marketing content is still all too common. Here are two recent examples:
- Oppenheimer published their view on why actively managed funds are key in emerging markets. Of course, they offer actively managed funds and they hope that by publishing their marketing view on Forbes, you are more likely to believe it.
- CenturyLink makes the case for colocation as the solution to a number of issues facing CIOs today. Surprise! the article was written by a CenturyLink colocation product VP!
The difference between what we expect of editorial content and articles like this is night and day. For native publishing to work for marketers like CenturyLink and Oppenheimer Funds, they will need to dramatically improve the information (or entertainment) value of their content. For both their audience and Google.
The Future for Native Advertising
You can’t continue to trick savvy readers, or Google, with native advertising on reputable sites. Instead, marketers will need to approach native as a way to incrementally improve distribution of content that meets, or exceeds, our expectations for editorial content. And that’s a bar many marketers aren’t really ready to reach.
Do you look at content from marketers differently, even when it is published on a site like Forbes or WSJ? Do you believe marketers content is disclosed well enough to recognize it? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).